3 Strategies to Spend More Time on What Matters

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Every first and third Wednesday, our Head of Community Anna Dearmon Kornick hosts a LIVE deep dive into a different time management topic. Then, she opens up the floor for your questions and coaching.

This week we focused on how to tame your to-do list so you can spend more time on what matters.

3 Strategies to Spend More Time on What Matters

When you're staring at a list a mile long of action items, follow-ups, to-do's, and tasks, getting started can be daunting. 

Whether you’re a manager on a mission to help your team tighten up their to-do's or you're looking to pare down your own pile of action items – where do you begin when everything feels important?


The reality is our seemingly endless to-do lists are making us stressed, and yet, when we’re stressed we can’t seem to get through what’s on our to-do list.

A 2019 study of more than 1,300 people from VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, found that: 

50% of people feel “moderately stressed” and suffer negative effects on their mental health because of their never-ending to-do lists.

73% of people attribute the reason for their overgrown to-do lists as a desire to be helpful, accommodating, and polite.

60% of respondents say they have more than 60 tasks on their weekly to-do list (both work and personal commitments).

52% of respondents say they overcommit because they’re worried about letting themselves or others down.

Before you tame your to-do list

Capture current projects and outstanding to-do’s

Your first step is to collect all of your outstanding to-do’s across your work and personal life. It may seem counterintuitive to make a long list, but keeping all of those tasks in your head is a surefire way to get overwhelmed.

Begin by making a list of the projects that are currently in motion. What are all of the different things that you’re working on from a project level? At this point, you’ll probably be tempted to head over to your project management system to start creating tasks, but don’t jump in just yet.

Write your initial list by hand on a whiteboard or a blank piece of paper. By writing it down, you'll turn those abstract ideas into concrete action items. Now that you have a list of all your projects, it's time to expand that list even further to include a full download of all of your outstanding tasks.

It can easily feel like things are getting worse before they get better, but don’t panic. It's common to have more than 100 things on your initial list. Remember: This is a full mindsweep of all your personal and professional to-dos, so the goal is to get everything out in the open.

Consider setting a timer for 30 minutes to capture all of the items in your head and get them out on paper. Add 15 minutes if you need more time. 

Once your projects and tasks are written down, it’s time to categorize by grouping similar tasks together. This will look different for everyone, but the key is to find the themes to make your project more digestible. For you, it may make sense to group by client, project, or by type such as: marketing, collaboration tasks, meetings, or health and wellness. Play around with different groupings to find the best categories that work for you.

3 strategies to tame your to-do list

1. Eliminate

It’s likely that there are things taking up space on your list that simply don’t need to be done. Challenge yourself to cross off 10% of the line items on your list. Be ruthless! 

This will ensure that everything on your plate is necessary and deserves to be there. It can be hard to let go, but once you do you’ll have more attention for the things that matter.

Go through each line item and ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” This will allow you to think critically about every single thing on your plate. 

2. Automate

Automation can seem intimidating, but once you start to identify small tasks that can happen automatically, you’ll quickly see its effects on your life and work. Here are four ways you can begin automating your to-do list: systems, workflows, routines and reminders. 

Systems

Think of systems as a shortcut to getting things done. There are plenty of tools that can help you create systems to help cut out the busywork and open up some bandwidth for more important tasks and working in your genius zone.

  • Zapier and IFTTT are just a few tools that can automate repetitive tasks. The simplest way to get started is to explore a list of triggers that other users have already created. Asana rules can also be helpful for taking some administrative tasks off your plate.
  • In your personal life, setting up automated bill pay can streamline your monthly payments and even avoid the possibility of late payments.
  • Subscriptions to services like coffee delivery, meal kits, kids toy subscriptions, and even razors can keep things stocked at home with minimal effort..

Time Management Tip: did you know you can sync Slack with Google Cal using Clockwise? Get started here.

Workflows 

Workflows are a specific series of steps you require to perform a task. Capturing workflows and processes takes the guesswork out of completing a task. Plus, having workflows helps you easily delegate tasks to others. Consider using Loom to document and share your workflows.


Routines

Think of a routine as putting yourself on autopilot. Instead of losing time thinking about what comes next, it's helpful to define routines that you can effortlessly move through. To dig deeper into routines, catch the replay of five essential routines for a sustainable workweek to optimize your time.


Reminders

For things you can’t systemize, automate, or put into a workflow, try setting a reminder. Explore tools you’re likely already using, Google calendar, Alexa reminders, and Google home are all great tools for setting reminders. You can also sync your Google Calendar with Slack using Clockwise to receive meeting reminders.  

3. Delegate

Now that we’ve eliminated what didn’t need to be on our list in the first place, and automated repeatable tasks, it’s time to delegate. What can be done by someone else? Consider delegating tasks that are not in your Genius Zone and that have to be performed by a human, but that human doesn’t have to be you. Here are four options for delegation to consider:

Team

Is there someone on your team that you can empower by teaching them some of the things taking up space on your list? If it doesn’t need to be done by you, it can possibly create an opportunity for someone else. 

Partners

Is there someone else within your organization– maybe even in another department– that could handle the task? Ask yourself: “Are there things that you’re doing that make more sense to be handled by a colleague?” 

Outsource

What can be done outside of your organization? Could you outsource a task or project and let  an expert freelancer handle it? Could it get done faster, better and actually get crossed off the list?

Hire

Once you’ve eliminated anything that didn’t actually need to get done, automated any of your repetitive tasks, and delegated anything you can with members within the organization – it may be time to hire a new team member. The good thing about this step is that you’ve already documented your processes and workflows and set yourself up for success to onboard new team members.

How to make the most of your time with your new to-do list

Now that you’ve tamed your to-do list with elimination, automation and delegation, use these three time management strategies to spend time on what matters most.

Time Blocking Schedule time in your calendar for each task. Taking those to-do list items and giving them a home on your calendar helps you create a more realistic schedule. 

By carving out a clear start and end time for each task, you're combating Parkinson's Law, which tells us that a task will take up as much time as you give it.

Time Management Tip: integrate Asana with Google Calendar to systematize time blocking your calendar

Task Batching Group similar tasks together into a time block. Batching tasks greatly reduces context switching and keeps you focused longer. It can take up to 30 minutes to completely shift our focus to a new task, but by batching related tasks you can avoid wasting valuable time.


Theme Days - Choose a  specific category of tasks and batch them together on a specific day of the week. Setting theme days helps with decision making and setting expectations for yourself and others. 

Office Hours Q+A

Q: How do you estimate the time it takes to do a task or complete a project? 

A: The Planning Fallacy states that we consistently underestimate how long things take us to complete. Because of this, we can play a trick on ourselves. First, estimate how long you think the task will take to complete, then add in buffer time. This gives you the benefit of having a designated amount of time to complete a project while also setting yourself up for success.

Q: How often should I do a Mindsweep list of all of my tasks?

A: It’s personal to you! The key here is anytime you feel overwhelmed - it's time to zoom out, clarify, and classify. For you, it may make sense to write out a list daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. It's a way to get things out of your head and onto paper whenever you need to get focused. When your to-do list is decluttered and organized you’ll be able to easily plan your week in 30 minutes or less.

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